Former Union Minister P Chidambaram was finally granted bail by the Supreme Court in the INX Media money laundering case after spending 105 days in custody.
In the present matter, the Bench comprising of the Justices R Banumathi, AS Bopanna, and Hrishikesh Roy made some important observations with regard to the order passed by the Delhi High Court last month, by which Chidambaram’s bail plea was dismissed while granting bail to P Chidambaram in the Enforcement Directorate’s case.
The Bench in the existing matter observed that:
“In the present situation the appellant is not in political power nor is he holding any post in the Government of the day so as to be in a position to interfere. In that view such allegation cannot be accepted on its face value.
With regard to the witness having written that he is not prepared to be confronted as he is from the same state, the appellant cannot be held responsible for the same when there is no material to indicate that the appellant or anyone on his behalf had restrained or threatened the concerned witness who refused to be confronted with the appellant in custody.”
The main question to be determined by the Supreme Court in the present appeal was whether the High Court was justified in denying bail to Chidambaram despite ruling that the requirements of the triple test were fulfilled.
At the outset, the Court noted that the gravity of an offence is a factor that ought to be considered in addition to the triple test for bail
However, while noting that economic offences are of a grave nature, the Court reiterated that the legal position is that bail is the rule and refusal of bail is the exception.
In that context, it was held,
“…even if the allegation is one of grave economic offence, it is not a rule that bail should be denied in every case since there is no such bar created in the relevant enactment passed by the legislature nor does the bail jurisprudence provides so. Therefore, the underlining conclusion is that irrespective of the nature and gravity of charge, the precedent of another case alone will not be the basis for either grant or refusal of bail though it may have a bearing on principle.”
Having made these observations, the Court ensued to discuss the propriety of the Delhi High Court’s order refusing bail to P Chidambaram wherein the Bench opined that the High Court was certainly justified in adverting to gravity of the offence as a factor. However, it took a dim view of the conclusions recorded in paragraphs 57 to 62 of the order, which are in the nature of findings relating to the alleged offence.
Though the High Court was justified in perusing the documents submitted by the ED in a sealed cover, it ought not have recorded its findings on the same, the Court held.
“While the learned Judge was empowered to look at the materials produced in a sealed cover to satisfy his judicial conscience, the learned Judge ought not to have recorded finding based on the materials produced in a sealed cover.”
Thus, the Court held that the observations of the Delhi High Court based on the contents of the sealed cover were not justified.
The Bench further states that though it was not inclined to do so, it would have to open the sealed cover and peruse its contents, since the Delhi High Court had arrived at a certain conclusion after doing the same.
The Court goes on to reveal the contents of the sealed cover documents:
“The recording of statements and the collation of material is in the nature of allegation against one of the co-accused Karti Chidambaram son of appellant of opening shell companies and also purchasing benami properties in the name of relatives at various places in different countries.”
Therefore, with these observations, the Court decided to ultimately grant bail to Chidambaram, subject to certain stipulations and conditions which were required to be followed. As the crux of the matter, this was held to be a prominent matter and after 105 days of custody he was finally granted bail in the current matter.